A photograph of an iceberg that may be the one that sank the Titanic is going up for auction on Saturday, October 24th. The picture was taken the morning of April 15th, 1912, by M. Linoenewald, Chief Steward of the German liner Prinz Adalbert a few miles south of where the Titanic had gone down taking 1,517 souls with her just hours earlier. The news of the disaster hadn’t reached the liner yet, but the Chief Steward noticed red paint on the iceberg and took the photo out of interest.
You can’t see the paint in the picture. It is described in a brief statement signed by the Chief Steward and three other crewmen:
“On the day after the sinking of the Titanic, the steamer Prinz Adalbert passes the iceberg shown in this photograph. The Titanic disaster was not yet known by us. On one side red paint was plainly visible, which has the appearance of having been made by the scraping of a vessel on the iceberg. SS Prinz Adalbert Hamburg America Line”.
This isn’t the only picture of an iceberg suspect taken in the aftermath of the Titanic‘s demise. Captain William De Carteret of the Minia captured another possible candidate while searching for bodies. The Minia was a cable ship owned by Western Union which normally laid submarine cable for telegraph and was the second of four ships chartered by White Star as recovery vessels after the disaster. It reached the North Atlantic wreck site on April 26th, four days after the first recovery ship, the Mackay-Bennett, and searched through May 3rd.
Captain De Carteret took the photograph of the iceberg with a red gash along the base. According to him and the ship’s logs, that was the only iceberg encountered near the site of the collision. The Reverend Henry Ward Cunningham, on the other hand, told the press he had seen two icebergs and that the officers told him they’d seen more in the distance. The Minia searched a wide area, however, so the Captain likely snapped a photograph of the only iceberg he’d seen that was where the ship actually went down rather than the many miles over which the bodies floated, drawn towards the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.
The crew of the Minia recovered 17 bodies from the wreck site, among them Charles Melville Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway, but most of the deceased had no identification. The bodies were found miles apart, the last two recovered 45 miles away from each other. All were wearing life belts and according to the ship’s doctor, only one of them had water in the lungs indicating drowning. Fourteen died from exposure, two apparently from trauma during the wreck. The bodies of two unidentified firemen were buried at sea in a solemn ceremony. The other 15 were brought to Halifax.
The photograph taken by the Chief Steward of the Prinz Adalbert doesn’t match the survivors’ description of the iceberg as well as De Carteret’s does, but the descriptions are vague and contradictory. It’s of historical significance either way because it was taken so soon after the disaster and because it played a role in the legal fallout. Hamburg American Lines officials gave the photograph to the company lawyer, Charles Burlingham, partner at Burlingham, Montgomery & Beecher, when they heard that the firm was representing the White Star Line. Burlingham, Montgomery & Beecher represented White Star at the US Senate hearing and in the many lawsuits brought by survivors in America.
They did their job well since a 1914 US Supreme Court decision, written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, determined that the US Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 applied to the British company and that therefore their total liability was the value of whatever remained of the ship and its cargo, ie, 14 lifeboats valued at $4,520, plus $93,252 in ticket sales and freight charges. Because of the monster shitstorm of bad publicity, White Star ended up settling with the many, many US claimants — survivors suing for loss of property and trauma; family members for the loss of their loved ones — for a grand total of $664,000.
Burlingham, Montgomery & Beecher kept the iceberg picture on the boardroom wall for almost 90 years, from 1913 until the firm went out of business in 2002. The four remaining lawyers who were partners of the firm when it closed are the joint owners of the photograph offering it for sale. It is estimated to sell for £10,000 to £15,000 ($15,000 – $23,000).